CATFISH: The Other White Meat !

good size flathead & channelby Tom Cannon

When I think of summertime, I immediately think of certain things. Hot weather, ice tea, and catfish. What other fish fits the bill in the summer heat better than old “whisker lips”? To make the situation even better, most states have a very liberal daily creel limit on Catfish, allowing anglers to quickly and easily fill their freezer with some tasty fillets!

Let’s not get in a big debate about whether catching ‘Cats on rod and reel is the true feat compared to set lines. I say pick your passion and get after them! Recently I was able to get a free weekend and after consulting, John Trager, a local Catfishing guru, I immediately set a plan into action.

John, better known as Captain Catfish, is a legend in Kansas City fishing circles. In fact he helped popularize the fish in our urban areas, i.e. the Missouri and Kansas Rivers that flow through our city.

I needed just a bit of advice, and John’s opinion on the weekend moon phase was right on track. He mentioned that there would be a “dark” moon over the period I was considering and that often led to successful trips. Since I had an opportunity to sneak away from family issues, I loaded the boat and went out alone for some quiet time. There are hundreds of great Catfishing oppurtunities very close to most anglers. Any size impoundment, stream, river, or pond is bound to have an ample supply of ‘Cats. In fact I had this particular place to myself!

Oh, I nearly forgot to mention some of the prep work. First and foremost in a successful trip is bait. I learned from John that one of the keys to catching numbers and size of fish is good natural bait. Thus prior to heading out, I assembled my assitiant bait mate, and headed to my little perch hole. We have found that Berkley PowerBait Nibbles are perfect for catching sunfish. Nearly every real bait we have tried is stolen more times than naught, yet the PowerBait stays on the hook very well and catches tons of fish!kylee-catchingperch

We simply use any ultra light rod setup, although an extenedable Crappie pole is optimum as it allows the angler to dip the bait into holes in moss and under trees. Be sure to check your local regulations on live bait and what is legal to use. I try to catch fifty or so sunfish and immediately put them into an aerated cooler. Of course Catfish can be caught on prepared baits, cut baits (Asian Carp are perfect) natural “stink” or attractant baits and many other creations. If I have to pick another bait besides sunfish, my second choice would be liver. While thousands of folks use chicken livers, I prefer beef liver. Beef has a tougher texture and stays on the hook better than chicken livers. Additionally I pre cut my beef livers into nuggets to save time on the water.

This trip I was going to utilize set lines, but prior to hitting the water I contacted my local game warden. I needed to clarify daily possession limit regulations. He explained that if I stayed on the water overnight that even though I would be fishing two days, in Missouri I could not legally have more than one day’s limit on my boat or in my truck. Thus if I wanted to catch a “possession limit” which is normally a two day total, I would have to go home on the first day and return with an empty creel. Once again its critical to check your local rules.

Therefore, once I got to the river I immediately began to locate my favorite spots. With knowledge I had picked up from John and other anglers, I expanded on my best spots, choosing two more places to fish. One of my new picks was a deep scour hole where the normal six foot deep channel dropped to twenty foot! It was here I placed my longest Trotline of six or seven hooks. I then eased downstream and set out a few more Trotlines and limb lines, but ensuring I never went over the maximum number of hooks allowed per person.trotline full cats

I count my rigs and place them in a bucket before heading out, so I know exactly how many rigs I have out and don’t unknowingly go over my limit. One trick I have found that makes labeling your lines easy is this… I take the address labels that come in the mail by the hundreds. I affix them to clear shipping tape so both sides are covered in tape. Then when I set a line I simply tape this semi-weatherproof name tag to my line and I am legal. Remember that it is illegal and unethical to place or leave lines unattended without name tags. Also when your trip is done you are required to completely remove all your gear!

I had high hopes for this trip. After an hour or so I was completed rigged up. All the lines were wet and ready for fish. I anxiously gulped down a sandwich and drink as the sun began to set. Still I was alone yet surprisingly close to home and thousands of people!

My first stop, netted a three pound Channel Cat, and the fun never ended! Nearly every stop had a fish on the line. In fact, my favorite spot, a little channel swing with stumps on it had a trio of Cats in a row. Its always fun to see the line jumping and not know what lays in wait under the surface!

The first evening, I quickly had my limit of Channel Catfish with one bonus Flathead! Since I had my limit and was growing weary of the bugs, I loaded my boat and headed home. Once there I emptied my livewell into a large trough of cold water and laid down for a few hours rest. At sunrise, I awoke, anxious to once more be back on the water!cooler of catfish

Somehow, my hard work was paying off. I was fortunate to be on the water witnessing God’s creation and harvesting plenty of Catfish. Amazingly nearly every stop held fish! I quickly approached my limit and began to unhook and release small fish so I could continue to purse larger fish and enjoy the sunrise. At one of my new stops, I reached down and in the process of pulling up the main line, the line pulled back. Typically this is the trait of a heavy fish, so I listened to my experience and pulled on a heavy glove. Big fish can jerk the main line so hard that it cuts the skin on your hand like a knife. Having endured this previously, I was trying to learn from my mistakes! Although this fish was a good one, approximately a ten pound Channel, he wasn’t a monster but did put up a fight.

As I continued my journey from line to line, I was blessed with numerous three to five pound fish and for once no turtles or gar to contend with ! In short order I had my ten Channels but unfortunately no bonus Flatheads or Blue Cats. Thus at nine oclock I pulled all my lines and loaded the boat onto the trailer.

Of course on the ride home I had a couple phone calls to make. Upon arrival at home, the work was about to begin! I had two days limits to contend to and the sun was beginning to get high and hot! Still, I had the pleasure of a glorious night and day trip to reflect on as I slid the knife from once Catfish to the next. In short order I had a  couple dozen bags in the freezer and the knowledge that one heck of a fish fry was in order.catfish meat

The firm, white flesh of a Catfish may not be the most reverved fish in the water but never underestimate it. Nothing tops off a summer afternoon like some of the “other white meat” (Catfish) fired to golden perfection alongside some coleslaw, homegrown tomatoes and a cold beer. Now that’s what summer is all about!

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Signs of Spring

by Tom Cannon

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On the heels of a colder than normal winter, any sign that spring has arrived is welcome. Quite often the initial tip are the buds on trees and shrubs in our yards, or perhaps the first sighting of a Robin. Yet nothing means spring is here to me than White Bass!

Fishing for White Bass is a spring ritual in my home. Around these parts the “whites” are among the first game fish to bite well; becoming active when the waters warm to about fifty degrees. These aggressive fish, follow nature and migrate up the tributaries not long after ice off.

What’s more, White Bass are not tough to catch. Fishing for “whites” doesn’t involve a lot of work or tackle, merely a bit of effort. Scout your local lake or big river for the headwaters that feed it. Begin fishing at the mouth of where the stream enters the lake and gradually move upstream from there.

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Simple is effective, when chasing White Bass. A rod or two spooled with six to eight pound line and small to medium minnow imitation lures work best. My favorite bait for catching White Bass is the Culprit Tassel Tail Grub. A subtle curl tail grub designed originally for Crappie fishing, it is equally suited for Whites or other species. Pair the Tassel Tail Grub with a 1/8 or 1/16 ounce jighead and you have one of the most effective stream lures ever devised!tasseltailgrub

One never knows where the whites will be from one day to the next! These fish can cover ground faster than a woman at the mall! In fact I have found them a mile or more upstream in just one day. Additionally they can normally be found on plain banks at one moment then laying next to a stump or brush pile moments later.

Fan casting your Culprit grub or other lure to each and every foot of water is the best method to ambush a limit of whites. Once the primary location is found simply duplicate that until it quits producing and move upstream. Often increasing the retrieve speed of the lure will trigger some bites from lethargic White Bass. There isn’t a speed they can’t catch, so don’t be shy about burning a lure back to the boat.kylee fishing

I have yet to meet an angler who doesn’t like to catch a White Bass. Typically one can always tell the strike… Similar to having a dog jerk the leash out of your hand when he sees a cat! Even the smallest of whites thinks he is a giant fish and will have you laughing at the strength of the silver and white fish. A better fish to introduce a child to fishing has yet to be found! Bad casting, splashing lures into the water, nothing deters a hungry “white”.

For some reason White Bass get a bad rap at the dinner table. My friends and family never seem to loose their enthusiasm for the fish though. I always feel that preparation of any fish or game is critical and foremost importance. Ice is the key ingredient in my livewell. Every fish I plan to keep is immediately placed on ice. Once at  home I waste no time breaking out the fillet knife and quickly cleaning my day’s catch. Soak those fillets in water for several hours. In fact I also package my fillets in a bag of water to prevent any freezer burn. Once thawed simply run them through an egg wash and add seasoning, then drop into the fryer or broiler.

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If there is a better sign that spring has arrived than a mess of freshly cooked White Bass on the table; I have yet to find it! Oh yeah be sure to keep at least one hand on your fishing rod at all times, as every year someone has one jerked into the water by an angry White Bass !

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Spring Scouting for Improved Waterfowl Hunting

by Tom Cannon

geese pond load

Immediately after my waterfowl season ends, I like many hunters clean and stow my gear, and lament the previous season’s blessings and misgivings. Alas though, the curtain may have dropped on this waterfowl season, but I am already working on the future.

After a week or two earning points with the family, I am right back chasing ducks and geese. Usually about mid to late February in the central United States, we begin to get the reverse migration. Of course I instantly take notice of where, what species, as well as how many are present. My Alpen binoculars and spotting scope become my companions and my camera part of my attire.

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Quite a bit can be learned from the “northbound” birds. Through the last several years I augmented my knowledge of the habits and traits of my common quarry. Since I wasn’t concerned with killing them, I was truly able to investigate the birds’ intimately. I took notice of exactly where in my fields they like to land. What portions of the ponds were favored by puddle ducks versus honkers. Furthermore, how much natural calling the birds did and at what volume. Mentally I compressed this material for use during future seasons.  canvasbacks bunch

Photographs taken at the scenes help me research these facts at a later date. I have found better locations to hunt, where to place blinds, and what portions of the day these birds like to fly out or return. Photographs also help illustrate good camo, whether it be my Drake camo clothing, or the effectiveness of any permanent blinds on the properties. Do the birds shy away from those corners of the pond or marsh? If so they could be aware of any blinds there and thus cautious.

Photos also help me glean info on the effects of sunlight and how the birds react to it. This is critical in rising and setting sun conditions. For instance I noticed that the shady areas of my pond seemed to rarely be where the birds “lit”. Sure they often found their way to those “gray” areas but the vast majority flew and landed in well light areas where the sunlight had good penetration. This confirms that in nature, prey as well as predators realize the benefits of attack from a concealed location. I have since filed this away and will adjust my early morning hunts accordingly.

As mentioned previously, one of the most interesting tidbits I garnered was the actual calling of ducks and geese. Much to my dismay, when I was really able to concentrate on the birds and not the harvest, I was amazed. More times than not, the natural voices of the birds was quite tranquil. There was no “main street” calling from either duck or goose. Rarely did they actually get to the volume that we as hunters blast from our calls. The ducks and geese that I observed did get chatty and vocal at times but nary as loud as hunters calls.dux mallards, ringnecks, pintails

Additionally, since I live adjacent to some of my locations I am often within ear shot of approaching and departing birds. This area is frequented by many species of Canada geese, allowing me to overhear their individual accents for lack of a better word. The high pitch sound of a “lesser” is quite distinguishable from a “greater”. I often heard very different clucks, moans, or quacks. Individual birds had their own unique voice, some throaty and hoarse while others had a whiny chatter. This re-affirmed my opinion about the effectiveness of calling and bad notes.

I personally believe that good waterfowl calling is beneficial but not the most critical part of the overall puzzle. Knowing when and how to utilize that calling is much more imperative. My research showed that these birds were not spooked by strange; (often what would be considered terrible calling by a human), noises that came from the mouth (i.e. bill) of a duck or goose! In fact rarely did another bird take notice when a strange sound was uttered by a fellow wild duck or goose. Check for yourself… Drive to a local park or zoo and sit for a hour or two. I can guarantee you will pick up some “words and phrases” that these birds utter that you never considered previously.  I store these nuggets in my brain for use at a later date during the season.speck flying turning

Natural poses also interest me. I take notice of where and how the birds sit and loaf. When I witness the same scenario more than once I make a note to try that pattern when I set out my decoys during the season. Whenever possible, I attempt to gain a higher vantage point so that I can get an aerial view of the natural setups the birds choose. Once more that tidbit gets filed away for use during the season.

One of the tricks that I have really noticed lately is just pure observation skills. I really began to concentrate on approaching birds in good lighting, especially since they had their full plumage at this time. I made mental notes as to wing speed, posture and actions so that I can become a better judge of what specie it was. This will be especially helpful in the early season and during low light conditions. How many times do we think we shot a Mallard when it was actually a Gadwall or Widgeon?IMG_5264

Rarely do we get opportunities at Whitefront Geese where I hunt. Thus this spring I have noticed more than I have ever viewed anywhere. I made careful notes as to how to pick random “Specks” out of an incoming flight of Canada geese when they approach silently. This will pay huge rewards should that opportunity present itself next season! Knowing the subtleties of the different birds can help hunters pick up a bonus bird or two through their regular season. Lastly I began to “see” the birds better as they approached. I learned to pick out slight variations such as white rings on a”honker’s” neck, subtle mis-colorations or hybrid birds and I really began to distinguish bands at a distance.honkers band pair

Lastly, I am constantly on the prowl for any and all information I can gain that will make me a better hunter. I spend my waking moments listening to the birds, watching and learning what I can to improve my skills. Heck if nothing else, this is just another way to extend my season and enjoy God’s creation.

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Catching up with Jody Niccum; 2007 World Duck Calling Champion

In November of 2007, Jody Niccum of Overland Park, Kansas won the World Duck Calling Championship in Stuttgart, Arkansas. He became one of the youngest champions at age nineteen. At the time he was a college student who hunted on the weekends with his dad and brother Cory. This past fall Jody and I ran into each other and had a chance to hunt, catch up on the last seven years as well as speculate on what the future may hold for him.

At the time of championship Jody was a student at Baker University in Kansas, but eventually transferred to the University of Arkansas where he studied business. Next he became a branch manager of a local bank in Kansas but eventually found his way into his current job at KC Arborist, a local tree service company, where he works in sales.

jody niccum callingJody was introduced to duck hunting and duck calling by his dad, and accompanied him and brother Cory to their duck club in northwest Missouri. It was there that Jody met and became a student of Mike Keller, another Kansas City World Duck Calling Champion. Keller, brother Cory and Butch Richenback all influenced Jody’s calling style as did Pat Murrillo from Iowa. Much the same as he has done for many a contest caller, Butch Richenback gave Jody tips, tuned his call and encouraged him prior to the contest.

Upon winning his title Jody was able to spend several days hunting in the infamous waters of Stuttgart duck clubs. John Stephens, Jim Ronquest and several of the RNT Calls staff invited him to their haunts for some traditional southern duck hunting. Interestingly, Jody considers himself a better goose caller than duck caller and hopes to have an opportunity to win a world title in goose calling as well! At just twenty-five years of age this world champ has plenty of opportunity left for another title or two.

tom,jackson,jodyI was fortunate to hunt with Jody a few times this season and it was insightful. Duck season had closed previously thus we were committed to only geese. Still hearing Jody reach out to distant flocks and work his magic was worth the price of admission! Often those distant birds turned on a dime and headed our way for a look. Jody’s politeness made everyone feel at home but it was his polished calling that made the difference. We were able to grind out a limit which just made that day even better.

Currently Jody hunts when possible on weekends, and during the off season he competes in calling contests throughout the country. When he isn’t hunting or contest calling Niccum spends his off time with family, golfing or fishing bass tournaments in the area.

 

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GREAT GEAR: Drake Waterfowl, LST Eqwader 2.0

Drake Waterfowl is a house hold name in the waterfowl industry. They are known for innovative products for serious duck and goose hunters. A few years ago, Drake introduced their Eqwader line of hunting waders and those were well received. In fact Outdoor-Z.com, did one of the first field reviews of those original Drake waders, and I still have and use them!

Never a company to rest on its laurels, Drake, redesigned those waders and tweaked them a bit to an even higher standard. Thus the new Eqwader 2.0 wading system was introduced. My only issue with the original Eqwaders was that the arm pit opening was a bit low, thus limiting how deep I could go into the water by several inches. Drake addressed this by raising the “arm pit” nicely but still allowing the hunter to utilize their propriety hand warmer sleeve inside the wader.

Hunters will also immediately notice that all the seams on the Drake 2.0 Eqwaders are sealed! I have yet to see another manufacturer do this. Sealing the stitches and  seams should effectively reduce any moisture from seeping into the waders and ruining the hunt.

Although Drake previously had reinforced the knees, ankles and rear end of the original waders with a cordura type material, the 2.0 has gone beyond that. The new and improved 2.0 version has horizontal pleated material across the knees in what Drake refers to as Hydro-Flex knees. This gives additional protection to the knee area, preventing any tears or holes yet still allows full range of motion!

Like the originals, the 2.0 Eqwaders have boot buckle straps that allow the hunter to custom fit the boot. This really comes in handy when wading through that nasty, suction like mud that tries to yank your boots off as you trudge through it. Merely pull the boot strap tight, and nothing short of a boot horn will pull these waders off!

There are several different models of the new 2.0 Eqwaders, and they feature all the same advancements but differ in insulation. My Late Season version, (LST) were supplied with 5mm neoprene and 1600 gram Thinsulate boots for maximum warmth. I was able to put them to the ultimate test recently as we have dropped to a daytime high temperature of 15 to 20 degrees! I wore my usual wool socks and no foot warmers and was quite impressed with the warmth in the boot and body of these waders. They were quite roomy, and the inseam was comfortable for a six foot one inch fella. We had to bust some serious ice, and these waders were warm enough that I had to shed my Drake pullover while clearing a hole.

Most of the other features are similar to those found on the original Drake waders. I will say that the upper chest area has a new fabric on it that is very flexible. The two compartments that feature the Drake Magnattach closure have larger thus stronger magnets on them and they really stay closed well. The two (2) zippered compartments are truly waterproof as I can personally attest ! Additionally the shoulder straps have no buckles to hinder gun mounting or wear on your shoulder. The straps have plenty of adjustment built into them so that the hunter can adjust the strap length to fit his or her body height. A waist belt also comes in handy when wading deep waters. Six elastic shotshell holders across the front allow the hunter to always have some extra insurance with him in case a cripple needs dispatching while in the decoys. There are several different camo patterns available and sizing to fit most folks.

 

After wearing these new Drake LST, 2.0 Eqwaders, I truly believe Drake has hit another homerun! I see nothing that I would improve upon and plenty of things they did even better than before. Take a close look at these waders for yourself at your nearest retail store or visit www.Drakewaterfowl.com. I am sure you will be impressed !

 

 

 

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GREAT GEAR; Drake Windstopper MST Gloves

This is the time of year when the most critical piece of equipment is my gloves! How can you hunt, shoot, set up gear with frozen, painful fingers? A good set of gloves is invaluable and allows the hunter to stay in the field longer, often ensuring a good hunt.

Recently the climate in our region took a drastic tumble from balmy sixty-five degrees to frigid highs of twenty in less than a week. What better opportunity to field test the new Drake MST Windstopper Fleece Shooter’s Glove?

I am pretty skeptical on gloves. My preference is for a somewhat thinner glove that keeps the hands warm but still allows for good movement and dexterity. Those thick Michelin man gloves have no use in my gear bag, as I have found I always have to take them off to load and shoot guns or bows, let alone call or use the phone. Thus when I first saw the Drake Waterfowl MST gloves with Windstopper Fleece, I was intrigued.

My order arrived in warm weather, so all I could do was inspect them for quality control issues, of which I found none. These gloves are only offered in black, which should be fine for most applications. They are obviously constructed from a fleece type material, with a Gore brand Windstopper liner. The palm of the glove has a goat leather strip across it and another strip runs up the index finger and thumb. Additionally there is a second leather patch along the “web” of the hand which should help the glove last longer and in effect be stronger. The cuff is a neoprene type material, common on Drake products, which does a good job of reducing any water from seeping into the inside of the glove. I really appreciate this as often I have had not water but snow drop into my gloves and render my hands useless!

Drake’s sizing appears to be right on, as I ordered my pair of gloves in men’s extra large and they fit properly, not too tight or loose. The is enough room inside that allows for normal movement of your hands and I could even add a chemical hand warmer without them being too tight. While they are not “waterproof” I did notice that small amounts of moisture does not penetrate the material. Thus frost, dew, or light sprinkles shouldn’t cause your hands any discomfort while wearing these Drake MST gloves.

I put the ultimate field test on an actual weekend of hunting when the daytime high temperature was twenty six. Morning temps were right at ten degrees!  I wore the Drake Windstopper Gloves alone on several evening deer hunts and they kept my bare hands sufficiently warm. I will admit in the early morning when the air temp dropped to eight degrees, I did slide in a set of chemical hand warmers inside the gloves, and the combo worked well keeping my hands warm and nimble enough to open a zip lock bag, zip up clothing and actually make an accurate shot with a rifle killing a doe. Not once did I have to remove the gloves and allow the icy air to chill my fingers.

It is rare for me to find any gloves that provide actual warmth and the ability to shoot a rifle or bow accurately. Drake Waterfowl deserves serious applause for the thought and design of these gloves. I recommend them for anyone who spends serious time outdoors, either hunting, bird watching, or doing chores. Should you be in need of a quality pair mid weight gloves, look no farther than the Windstopper Fleece Shooter’s Glove from Drake Waterfowl. For more information on sizing, retailers or other Drake products, go to www.Drakewaterfowl.com

 

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New Products from Drake Waterfowl

On the cisp of  waterfowl season, its always cool to test some of the newest gear on the market. Here is a quick review about a trio of new products from the Drake Waterfowl line. The first couple of items are from the Team Gun Dog series; a pair of unique training bumpers for retrievers.

Drake has prepared for dog training from the first step; force fetching. As you can see the Drake “Force Fetch” bumper, item DW9300 is unlike anything else on the market. It has a narrow biting area of approximately six inches long that fits comfortably in even a small puppy’s mouth. Like all the Team Gun Dog dummies, the ends are constructed of hard plastic to discourage biting, but encourage the proper grip where needed ( narrow portion).

I gave one to professional dog trainer, Gordy Weigel, of Bur Oak Retrievers. After several weeks I solicited his feedback on the bumper. Gordy is a man of few words, yet he had only positive comments. It held up well, even with puppies who are typically hard on gear, yet was nearly optimum sized for all dogs, even the largest. This isn’t a bumper that will be used daily by the average dog owner but for force fetching it is critical and speeds the process along.

Next we have what is rightfully the flagship of the Drake Team Gun Dog line. The PRO Bumper (DW9100) is built with the professional dog trainer in mind, but equally at home in the hands of amateurs as well. It is sized for adult dogs that are already force fetched.

The PRO Bumper is eleven inches in length, with a five inch soft body in the middle. Like all Team Gun Dog products it has hard plastic ends; on this model a hard duck head and round knob like tail with ten inch rope handle. To resemble a duck the soft body has been molded in brown and white colors, with green hard plastic ends. Once more we tested this on several sized dogs, and all were capable of picking it up. The dummy throws well by hand, and it floats well even after continuous use by adult dogs. It has become a popular item for evening sessions at our home, where everyone gets involved.

Lastly, I was able to pickup a pair of the hot new sunglasses from Drake Waterfowl Systems. I chose the Volley model, in tortoise shell frame paired with brown polarized lens. There are several other models and most have two or three frame and lens color options.

 

The Volley model is available in the stated tortoise shell frame, choice of matte or gloss black, and white. Lens colors run the gamet from gray and my bronze, to mirror blue or green. I was amazed at the quality of lens on my pair. I have yet to try on sunglasses as clear as these Volleys and the bronze shade should be perfect in anything but the brightest sun. Quality hinges and frame to lens construction make my Volleys the go to shades from now on!

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Dakota Dreams,pleasant and not…

Begin with a zero dark thirty alarm clock buzzer, throw in an eleven hour drive across five states, with a continual flow of caffeinated beverages, and Nascar like fuel stops, and you have just participated in the trek north for the opening of waterfowl season. Let’s not forget the static of radio when the search feature fails to find anything remotely musical to listen to… At least I had some beautiful scenery to view as the miles clicked off on the odometer. Amazingly the alternating snoozes of both my canine and human co-riders had not driven me crazy, and arrival in North Dakota was effortless and safe.

It had been two years since my last Dakota adventure, but my dog Vito and I yearned to hit the potholes for some early season ducks. Somehow I coherced my brother Jack to come along to enjoy a few North Dakota sunrises and hopefully a few laughs!

Typically I prefer to arrive the day prior to the season opener. Since I would rather not eat then to hunt a spot “blind”, we arrived in early afternoon to settle into the farm. Once the gear was stowed, I broke out the ever present Alpen binoculars, maps, and notebook paper, and eased on down the closest gravel road.

I am always reminded I am in Dakota territory when I witness the unique boulder piles in field after field. Harvested from the soil by generation after generation of farmer, the piles continue to improve.

One thing I noticed right away, was the lack of water in some of our previously productive potholes. In fact, a dozen or more ‘holes were non existent! Likewise the corn and soybeans showed the strain of the summer’s drought. What should have been six foot tall corn was in some cases equal to the height of neighboring soybeans. Well, one makes due with what the Lord gives us, and I was not about to turn around!

Fortunately I knew the lay of the land and began to run a circuit of the “better” potholes. Most held a few ducks but none where what I would call a solid spot from which to start the season. Toward dusk, I wheeled the truck over a couple ridges, through a pasture and into a hidden gully, with a hidden pond at the bottom. Upon close inspection I could observe a few dozen puddle ducks mixed in with another fifteen or so divers. Throw in an obnoxious gathering of coots and we had yourselves a starting point for the next day.

The first morning of the season always brings with it a bitter sweet mood. Unpolished and unpracticed I stumble around, looking for this or that and finally gathering up all that is needed before climbing into waders for the first of many early morning hikes. None the less, the dog is rearing to go and he seems to know this is the real deal. Once we locate the two solo cottonwood trees, the decoy fleet is launched and the blinds set up. A slight breeze puts some ripple on the water’s surface and anticipation is high for the first flight!

Needless to say a few hours later, we have seen not one feathered creature. Things were not looking good for the Kansas team. Since we had not heard any gun shots, we knew that competition was not the issue. A quick walk along the eastern shore revealed the inhabitants had simply vanished from the previous eve.

I pondered the reason as to why there were no birds as we packed up. Possibly it was a PM local, or it was some sort of fluke; either way it was onward and (hopefully) upwards from here!

A quick retreat to another trusty spot, allowed us to salvage the morning. We were fortunate to bag a few mix species there and end the first dawn on a promising note. A quick bite of lunch and it was back on the trail of what I hoped would be bigger and better times this evening.

In my dictionary of hunting terms, alongside “sure thing”, sits an illustration of a small pasture slough. The kind that has two foot of bare mud bank, punctated by some reeds or knee high smart weed on the bank and some sort of aquatic lettuce in the water. As I crested the ridge, I spotted just that scene. At once, I knew where the afternoon would find me! Of course the thirty or so ducks that we splashing in the water didn’t hurt either.

Once the plastic imitations were tossed out and the blinds hidden well, all that was left was the wait. During the course of my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the season, I ran through all the scenarios of the morning and prayed they didn’t occur this afternoon. A whimper from Vito, shook the sleep from eyes, and I peered out front to see the subtle silhouettes of a pair of teal. Not wanting to ruin the moment, I EASED from my layout blind and snapped a shot at the closest duck. Like all best laid plans, this one required a second effort and fortunately that shot connected. I don’t know who was happier, me or Vito! The scene repeated itself again and again until I had finished my daily limit with Teal.

 

When presented with opportunity it seems that hard work often pays off. Staying optimistic and putting in the effort paid off handsomely with a day one limit. That made dinner as well as a couple libations taste that much sweeter! All that was left was to do it over again.

Day two dawned exactly the same as the opener. Comfortable forty eight degrees with a southwest wind. Exactly what is not preferred for a hunt at dawn. I had located what appeared to be a great loafing hole on the west side of figure eight shaped pothole. The issue was the “sweet spot” was on the west side and we would be facing the rising sun. As imagined, the ducks arrived from the east, dropping in quietly and just as easily departing as the sun illuminated us standing in the reeds straining to get off a shot. Scratch another morning off to bad luck. To make matters worse, we fared no better with duck in the afternoon; succeeding only with mosquitos and doing very well with them!

The next day found me breaking a rule I knew better to do in early season… Hunting the same hole twice! Reasoning that setting up on the east side of that “sweet spot” and loading it with decoys and robo ducks, would somehow persuade them to over look where they really wanted to be. As you can imagine, the ducks did what ducks do. They deferred back to their original spot, landing just out of gun range – west of us.

Lunchtime found me once again traveling the dusty back roads in search of hope and ducks. A kind farmer’s wife felt some pity for me when I asked about hunting the pond near their homestead. Once more, high hopes set in and things were looking brighter. The afternoon found me trying to choose between the corner where a couple dozen teal had been and the adjacent corner where the bigger ducks had been.

I felt splitting the difference and picking the west ground which also gave me the better concealment would be best. This would position me more favorable for teal but also ensure that no stray shot would enter the barnyard. Unfortunately the short grass did not allow for the use of my dog blind. My partner would just have to lay alongside me in the fescue.

No time at all found us being buzzed by little Teal rocket ships. A salvo of Fiocchi steel was launched and somehow the squadron of teal escaped unharmed. Reloading my shotgun, I attempted to laugh it off and prepare for the next assault. This time my buddy could stand for no more of my poor shooting. Upon arrival of the next batch of teal, he sprung from his lare apparently in an effort to snare a duck himself, taking me out of the equation. Once more a failed scenario.

Finally we began to get on track with the next pair of teal. One shot one bird to hand. Then Murphy arrived in full force. Mallards and gadwall began to land just seventy yards away, splashing happily as if they knew I could offer them no harm. At that point, things went from bad to worse. The steady south west wind disappeared allowing the ducks to do what they wanted and tough down wherever they wished and it was not in the proximity of my spread. Although the ducks avoided us, the same was not true of the flocks of mosquitos and biting flies! Shooting time found us attempting to fire upon swarms of insects.

That evening I drown my sorrows and tried to envision a better plan of attack. Recalling from memory a section miles east that I had previously scouted and seen good bird population; a course of action was set to engage some ducks there the next morning.

Once more we arose to a southwest breeze. Tired on continuing facing into the rising sun, we decided to set up on the northwest face of the impoundment thereby effectively catching any ducks in a crossing pattern and reducing the glare on us. At first light we encountered steady movement and managed a few ducks as well as a bonus goose from Canada before things slowed up.

Immediately upon packing up, I began my scouting ritual. Traveling a mile or so west through the rugged and rocky pasture I located a few more potholes many of them littered with loafing waterfowl. Since I had some birds remaining in my daily limit of six and had only canine companion for the remainder of the day , I set up on a likely little spot.

Similar in appearance to a cereal bowl, this little pond sat way up on top of a ridge carved out by some glacier years ago. No livestock were in the area, but their presecence was obvious as the vegetation was merely ankle tall. Once I set my decoy spread and blind, I expended an hour or more time “brushing” my hide with grasses from the area to allow it to properly blend in. Once that was done, man and beast settled in for a nap.

I was awakened by the chirping calls of passing Sandhill Cranes. Dozens were passing over head within a football field or two of our position. Even with the stout head wind they made good progress and their calls could be heard from a great distance! What a sight to behold. SHortly thereafter the geese began to travel, yet none close enough for a shot.

Lastly, the ducks began to get skyward. One by one and then later more and more took to the blue bird sky, some approaching dangerously close. Finally a single teal dropped in perfectly for a shot and once downed it gave Vito a nice retrieve. Minutes later another little teal visited us and once more Vito got to go swimming. Although I couldn’t dare be picky, I hoped for some additional flavor other than just teal. Minutes later I was rewarded with a gray (Gadwall) for the bag. One duck remained for a limit. Approximately a half hour later, an immature Mallard drake drifted into the decoys and was met with the force of Fiocchi. As I unloaded and watched Vito proudly swim back with his prize, I silently gave thanks for such a glorious day !

A mild celebration occurred that night after which plans were hatched for the next day’s hunt. Serious weather was threatening the region soon so we decided to hunt that day and call it good. I had located a suitable spot just past the afternoon’s little pond that also held a variety of ducks.

It was there we arrived that last morning still in hours of darkness. Upon exit from the truck, I began to glance around. The lack of vegetation once more meant little cover in which to hide, but alas the ground was covered with duck feathers and excrement! It looked very promising.

Since this would be our last hoorah we employed every decoy and trick in our arsenal. The few goose decoys we had were tossed out as well as both our spinning wing decoys. Much effort was again placed into concealment and with the wind finally from the east, things were beginning to look up.

As I parked the truck and walked back I felt the wind at my back and with minutes to legal shooting time, I began to get anxious. The forecast was for a steady ten mile an hour southeast wind, yet a mere twenty percent chance of rain existed. Even after legal shooting time it remained incredibly dark, more so than should be expected on a “partly cloudy” day. One must hunt the conditions and that is what we did. Apparently rust had set in over the off season, as my shooting and that of my brother had deteriorated. Several ducks flew away unscathed until we began to get into a groove. As one duck then another was downed and retrieved, I thought I felt a sprinkle or two.

Once more change had set in for the worst. Suddenly a steady wind just filter to nothing and a light mist fell upon us. I was thankful for my every present Drake waterproof shirt that kept me comfy. Maybe it was the lack of wind or possibly the cloudy skies but nary a duck seemed impressed with our spread once the rain came. Suddenly we were leppers, outcasts in the waterfowl world. To say it was crazy would be an understatement.

I was becoming concerned about our departure, since we were literally miles from a suitable roadway or house and had to cross a good portion of bare earth and low lying land. Fortunately a couple marauding Gadwalls came close enough for shots and with a half dozen ducks between us we called the hunt. Quickly we gathered our gear and tossed it into the truck in hopes of safely making it to the gravel road.

story and photos by Tom Cannon

 

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Taneycomo Trout Tricks

Much like many thousands of tourists, I take my flock and head toward the neon lights of Branson, Missouri every summer. Although we do visit some of the typical sights such as the fire show at The Landing, and of course the go cart tracks, it is a vastly different rainbow of colors I seek.

Amazingly one of the best kept secrets in Branson, isn’t where to get 1/2 price tickets to The Titanic, or even which is the best buffet. No Sir, in my opinion the best entertainment in Branson is swimming in the chilly fifty degree waters of Lake Taneycomo!

Less than a mile from the strip and just feet away from The Landing, is a riverine type lake that is teaming with both Rainbow and Brown Trout. Heck, one of the largest fish hatcheries in the United States sits right on the banks of Taneycomo. It is here that one million Trout are raised and annually released into these waters. The odds of catching Trout in Taneycomo greatly exceed the odds of getting front row seats at the Dixie Stampede!

Take your pick of methods to catch them… Whether you prefer to fly fish, cast artificial lures, or go old school and drift live bait, anglers can “pick their poison” and have a reasonable chance of landing Trout.

Nearly all of the veteran anglers and guides in the area will agree that the key to consistently catching numbers of fish at Taneycomo is to fish when there is current. This lake is actually just a river that happens to be dammed at both ends. At the head waters lies Table Rock Lake Dam which releases its deep, cold water creating the current that Trout thrive in. At the far end lays Powersite Dam, which the excess water flows over into Bull Shoals Lake. Normally at some time, every day there is some amount of water released to generate electricity at the base of Table Rock Dam.

Current stimulates the feeding pattern of the local Trout and other fish, who prey on the bugs, or baitfish that travel downstream via the current highway. Water levels upstream and electrical power needs dictate the amount of water released thus the amount of current.

What’s more, the first three miles downstream from the headwaters are a special restrictive fishery known as The Trophy Waters. Here it is only legal to fish with artificial lures such as flies and hard lures. No soft plastics or bait are allowed and there is a size restriction on fish that can be kept as well.

Quite often the Trophy Waters can offer some of the best angling oppurtunites. During low water periods dozens of fly fishermen can be seen wading the gravel bars, roll casting their tiny nymphs or dry flies for wary fish. Otherwise, once the current picks up and the water depth increases boats become present and anglers begin plying various tricks to tempt a Trout or two into the net.

 

One of my favorite methods involves casting a plastic or wooden jerkbait and retrieving it in an erratic fashion. Quite often I am able to entice a reaction strike from innocent fish. Rarely do I go more than a cast or two without a “follow”. Fishing the crystal clear waters can be both appealing to anglers who like to visually see their quarry take the bait, or annoying when one sees how many fish turn their heads un-impressed at the offering!

One other distinct way of boating some quality fish is to cast a finesse jig and hop it back to the boat. This method can be feast or famine, yet I witnessed it work on both keeper size Trout as well as wall hangers!

I recently met one such angler, Todd Turner, from Shawnee, Kansas who has mastered the jig technique. Todd casts a hand tied marabou jig in weights of 3/32 or so switching to heavier jigs when the current picks up steam. He utilizes very light line, typically two pound fluorocarbon line which allows him to feel the jig bouncing on the bottom much better than heavy line. Additionally, lighter line translates into more strikes in these gin clear waters, since Trout have such great vision. Todd makes long casts hoping the jig up from the bottom in erratic fashion. Most strikes occur as it falls.

On any given day, the Trout may prefer one color jig over another. Thus he keeps a variety of colors such as white or brown hues handy as well as different weight jigs. “It does seem that the longer the feather body, the bigger the fish I catch,” quipped Turner. Yet that can also result in fewer fish caught, thus if an angler is merely looking for keeper size Trout, Todd advises pinching off some excess body hair. I can personally attest that these tiny offerings will pay huge dividends. Recently I was witnessed Todd boat a monster Rainbow that tipped the scales at just under eight pounds!

Like Todd Turner, I prefer a long rod for two reasons. First the longer rod allows a longer cast especially when tossing such light weight offerings. Secondly the longer rod helps when battling strong fish on micro size line like two to four pound test. The long rod creates a rubber band effect helping to wear out the Trout. Another side benefit is increased sensitivity also with a long rod. Fenwick offers some exceptional rods in their River Runner or Smallmouth series that are very well suited to these techniques. I prefer my trusted Pflueger spinning reel paired with a long rod and a four pound fluorocarbon line for jerkbaits.

Be sure to cast upstream or across current when the water is really flowing. This presents the lure in a more natural way and helps reduce snags also. The Trout are facing upstream and generally will expect their meals to come down with the flow.

Whether you choose to cast jigs, jerkbaits, or other lures like small spinners, crankbaits, or spoons be aware there are numerous trophy fish in these waters! I have boated beautiful chocolate colored Smallmouth Bass, White Bass, golden Walleye, Ozark Suckers, Largemouth Bass, as well as the common Rainbow and not so common Brown Trout.

Anglers who seek a more traditional approach may prefer to fish with live bait which is legal anywhere below Fall Creek. Top baits include night crawlers, corn, Berkley Power Bait and a handful of other items. Light line is still recommended and I prefer an octopus style hook which reduces the chances of fish swallowing the live bait and becoming mortally wounded. Generally keeping the bait along the bottom is the preferred method and drifting along with the current is a great method to keep kids or novice anglers entertained.

When fishing live bait, its a good idea to quit fishing or switch to artificial lures after a limit is caught. The odds are high that any Trout caught will suck the live bait down their gullet and even though they may swim away if released they often die later. Trout are strong fighters and with the advantage of the current they can be quite a handful on light tackle but it can also wear them out and cause delayed death. Fish that will not be kept for eating should be left in the water, and unhooked there whenever possible.

Although summer is often the preferred time to visit Branson and thus fish, it is not the only time that offers good Trout fishing. In fact, winter can present some of the optimum days for lunkers. The water temperatures will be steady in the mid forties thus the fish will still be quite active yet there are few fishermen to compete with. The lake waters remain the same only the outside air temperatures change. Pile on some additional clothing and try casting a jig along the deeper stretches of banks.

 

It seems that anyone can find something to do in Branson. Should catching aggressive, hard fighting Trout be your thing, then employ some of the techniques discussed above. Just be sure to bring along a camera, as one can never predict when that trophy Rainbow or Brown is likely to bite!

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Fishing the Keys from a Kayak

 

Some of the greatest scenery and fishing is found amongst the Florida Keys. Just a short drive south of Miami, on US 1, any angler can find numerous species of tenacious saltwater fish, as well as the most beautiful water in the United States!

We returned to one of our all time favorite spots, the middle Keys, recently after too long of a hiatus. On this most recent trip, I attempted to wrangle some of those hungry shallow water fish from a kayak! Normally, I fish from a shallow flats boat, but I decided to try my luck with a stealthy, man powered machine.

Every morning I gained valuable knowledge and experience with the little craft. I will say that I was at a definite disadvantage, in both speed and vision. I could realistically only travel four or five miles prior to exhaustion. Additionally, being only six inches above the water’ surface severely limits an angler’s eyesight and hampers spotting fish even in those crystal clear waters!

Still, I was up for the challenge, and as the sun began to rise, I could be found paddling my way out through the mangroves. My little craft had very little storage, thus I was limited as to what I could take along on each trip. My steadfast gear was my Pflueger President seven foot spinning rod and reel, spooled up with twelve pound Trilene, and a selection of Culprit & Riptide soft plastic baits. I also carried a second rod, switching between a Pflueger Summit casting reel with a seven foot heavy casting rod, or a lighter action topwater rod.

Normally, I would begin my day casting a topwater bait, such as the Culprit Topwater Shad, or a spook into just ankle deep water. In the “flats,” one never knows what will strike at any given moment. I caught sharks, barracudas, snappers and others on the surface. Sharks would come from nowhere to destroy that Culprit Topwater Shad! After losing my first two topwater lures, I got smart and tied on a wire leader and began to land those mean old toothy critters.

Once the sun got up, I would put away the casting rod and grab that trusty President spinning rod rigged up with either a Riptide Conley Grub or Realistic Shrimp lure. Since the water I was in was gin clear, I stuck with the natural or clear colors, which resembled true shrimp. Snappers would bite just about anytime the lure was near the bottom or close to the mangroves. Unfortunately, the one Bonefish I hooked up broke me off on the initial run. Still nothing gets an angler excited like a ‘bone tearing off line. That never gets old, although it would have be great to land one!

Early one morning found me quite a long paddle from home. Conditions were perfect and I eased my kayak effortlessly along in knee deep water, scanning the surface for the telltale sign of tailing Bonefish or Permit. I was taken by surprise when I stumbled right into a school of feeding Tarpon just yards away. Due to my limited space, I only had my topwater rod and my spinning rod at hand. Since I knew it was unlikely that I would get a bite on the plug, I hoped for the best and made a cast with the Realistic Shrimp. Since I was dealing with very light tackle, I picked out one of the smaller silver ghosts and made my presentation.

Initial casts went ignored. I repeated my casts, again and again hoping to entice a bite. Finally, that twenty-five or thirty pounder opened his huge mouth engulfing my little soft plastic creation. As I set the hook, I knew the odds were slim to land him. Sure enough, in just seconds he broke me off ! Twelve pound line is no match for the strength and sharp edges of a Tarpons head. Alas, at least I hooked one if only for a moment!

Since I had a leader on the topwater rod, I made some futile casts to the surfacing silver giants, but to no avail. As expected they had no interest in my lures. I was just relegated to watch them gracefully ease up to the surface, grab a quick gulp of air, and slide effortlessly on down the weed-line. This was just another one of those moments I thanked God that I was able to witness. Here I was just a dozen feet from several of the most revered game fish, not a ripple on the water, nor any other distraction. To quote an old adage, “it doesn’t get any better than this!”

Daily as I paddled to and fro, I observed all kinds of life. Nearly every morning I exchanged greetings with a Manatee as I propelled myself through the canal and saltwater creek enroute to the ocean bay. I observed sting rays, dozens of species of fish, osprey and eagles, lobster, crabs, and several different birds. Rarely, did I see other boats, and never did I have another kayak within eyesight save for occasionally my wife Anne.

After being beaten by the tarpon, I set me sights on landing one of those beasts. I went through my tackle, spooling up with heavier line, and adding a heavy fluorocarbon leader. I exchanged the topwater rod for a heavy action casting rod with a wide spool Pflueger reel knowing I would probably need it should I hook one of them!

The next day I made the lengthy journey back to that particular flat where I spotted them. As I paddled for what seemed an eternity I went through all the advice I had picked up. Twice I have hooked a tarpon only to be defeated. This time I hoped the outcome would change. Heck, I had hardly slept the night before, constantly checking the tide charts, checking and re-checking my gear and rising earlier than before to ensure I got there at the break of dawn.

Finally, I arrived at the solemn ground where I hoped to find my quarry. As sweat poured off my body from the trip, I scanned the surface for any disturbance that might signal cruising fish. The world was just beginning to come alive. In the distance I spotted what might be a surfacing fish, but I couldn’t tell for certain since I was facing the sunrise. Slowly, I eased my paddle into the water, forcing my kayak forward. After all the effort, I was anxious to cast to a fish tarpon or not. I still had my spinning rod and the fake shrimp tied on for luck or any approaching bonefish.

Slowly I covered water hoping to glimpse a silver tail or head break the surface. Minutes went by and I grew weary of the wait. I began to fan cast the area hoping a nearby fish would rush out and crush my offering. Cast after cast went unanswered. I alternated between shallow and (relative) deep water. Tarpon bait or plastic shrimp… Nothing seemed to in the area. Slowly I began to feel the nightmarish touch of a breeze on my skin.

Wind is the bane of a flats angler. The breeze disrupts the water, making it difficult to see fish. Choppy water and wind also hamper the ability to maintain control of my kayak while I cast. It is nearly impossible to paddle and fish at the same time!

No, I hoped against the wind, yet it began to blow. Subtle at first, but stronger as the sun got higher. In short order, my opportunity was wrecked. The wind was blowing me across the flat too quickly and hap-hazardly to properly fish. Additionally, I couldn’t have spotted a fish if it swam right by me due to the surface chop on the water. Thus I paddled toward the lee side of the mangroves, in an effort to get out of the wind and catch SOME fish. I did find an area where I could cast, but most of the fish had abandoned it. I got a few bites from snappers, but my chance for the “great one ” were dashed.

Still, nothing can ruin a beautiful scene, such as what I was a part of. Various changes were visible in the water. Clean sandy stretches were intermixed with thick weed beds, mangroves, and channel marker posts. It was one of the greatest sights, and I tried to absorb it as I paddled my way back to the house.

I never did hook up with another Tarpon or Bonefish. The Snook I saw every day avoided my casts! Still I witnessed some fabulous sights, landed more than my share of fish, and thanked God for the chance to do so.

Should you ever get the chance to visit the Keys, I highly recommend it. Take the time to paddle or wade out into the back country. Its quite easy to get away from the mainstream activity as deep water is quite a distance off shore. If a kayak isn’t your thing, there are hundreds of guides, and tours available. The great thing is we don’t even need a passport or the ability to speak a foreign language to visit the Keys. They remain one of the best kept secrets in the U.S.

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